Gianaclis Caldwell’s recent book, The Farmstead Creamery Advisor, is a guide to starting and maintaining a cheesemaking business. It’s the missing manual that every aspiring cheesemaker has been looking for….a guide that literally walks you through the process of starting from square one. But it’s not only a how-to guide: one of the things I like most about this book is that she’s up front about the many challenges inherent in the startup process. Her “10 questions for Aspiring Cheesemakers” gives you some idea of her humorous but very realistic take on the artisan cheesemaking business. Because a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, right?!
Gianaclis took some time out of her busy schedule at Pholia Farm in Southern Oregon to answer a few questions about her book and about the business of making cheese.
You’ve got plenty going on between taking care of your goats and making cheese. What made you want to write a book about it?
Well, I think one of the traits that makes for a successful farmer of any type is a certain amount of masochism…and I mean that in the most wholesome sense! But seriously, you have to be drawn to a high level of pressure, both mental and physical, to go into this type of work. And for me there is also a desire to have a new project, a new area to explore, and a new frontier to pursue. It was so difficult for us to find resources that would help us design and build our dairy and creamery and then after it was done we were constantly answering questions from others who were interested in doing the same thing. I had always wanted to write, and the idea of writing something practical that would help others was very appealing. Since it also ties into our business, it was easier to rationalize the time (and get support from the rest of the family!) than it would have been had I wanted to write something else - like fiction.
So many people are interested in making cheese for profit these days. Why do you think this is the case? What’s the attraction?
I think a combination of factors (or maybe planets!) have aligned at this time in our culinary history that make cheesemaking so appealing. First the desire to reconnect with food - its production, its cultural history and its quality - and the renewed interest in self sufficiency have drawn people back to the animals, the land, and cottage industry. It is truly wonderful to be a part of this revolution!
What resources were available to help you out when you were starting out? Did you have to learn by doing or were there places to go/look for help?
There were not many resources - at least consolidated ones that didn’t involve some other cheesemaker taking time out of their busy lives to give us advice. Luckily a few did allow us to visit and learn. But we still made a lot of mistakes and have had to learn the hard way - hopefully that is mostly over!
Now that Pholia Farm is an established creamery, what are your biggest challenges going forward?
One of the challenges that I would not have foreseen is holding up physically to the job. It is demanding and for some reason, every year we keep getting a bit less capable in that regard! Plus you start realizing that you can’t push yourself to the physical limit as often and recover as quickly. So I guess the plan would be to have some help eventually, but being people who would rather do it all ourselves, that will be a personal/mental challenge to overcome.
Do you think the local/artisan cheese movement has peaked (either locally or nationally) or is the growth sustainable long term?
It sure doesn’t seem to be anywhere close to peaking. What seems to be happening, in addition to the constant inflow of new cheesemakers, is the continued improvement of quality in the cheeses produced by existing and new cheesemakers. I think the pressure from new cheesemakers is helping to inspire this. What SHOULD happen, is a absorption of the movement into our culture - so instead of it being seen as a movement or trend- I think that artisanal cheesemaking will become a cultural mainstay - wouldn’t that be nice?
If there was one message you could give to aspiring cheesemakers wanting to start a farm-based cheese business, what would it be?
The one thing I would like them to be able to do is to see beyond the romantic, idealistic vision and understand the reality a bit better before committing their future (and their funds) to the choice.
(note: See my review of The Farmstead Creamery Advisor here.)
Read the original interview at the Pacific Northwest Cheese Project.
Gianaclis Caldwell is the author of The Farmstead Creamery Advisor, available now.